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Nature Art: Imagine Spring

The camellias are out! Of course, if you live in California, your camellias have been out since December. But for us in the East, anything that blooms in January is a miracle. I grow my camellia, the scented  "April Promise," in a pot outside from March to December, and I bring it indoors for the coldest months of the winter. Since I live in zone 7a, this hardy camellia might make it through the winter planted in the ground, but I don't want to risk losing the flowers to a cold snap.

The camillia and its pot weigh more than 60 pounds, so I must leave it in my dimly lit front hall until spring. I've often wondered what triggers its avalanche of bloom; over the past six years,its first bloom date has varied from New Year's Day to Valentine's Day. (It seems to be a plant that likes holidays.)

Last year it sat right next to the front door and, looking back, I realize that it caught every gust of cold wind. It blossomed on January 4, all at once with cascades of blossoms...and then it dropped its leaves.


So this year I placed it three feet back from the door. One ray of sunshine regularly caught the buds on the branch nearest the door. That bud was the first to bloom (see above), and I had to wonder if the extra light had triggered the blossom. Flowering in most plants is triggered by either long or short nights. But it turns out that light, or photoperiod, has no influence over the flowering time of camillia buds. But temperature does!

A cold shock--in this case gusts of 32-degree air--wakes the buds from their sleep. My plant needed temperatures below 50 degrees to trigger its blooms and, though my front hall was chilly, it wasn't cold enough. The plant actually needed some of those blasts of cold air from the front door, and the branch closest to the door got cold first. I was so happy to see the first blossom that I made it into a drawing for a card:


Check out this peaceful video of camellias, one of six, painted in the Chinese style. What fascinates me is the teacher's careful loading of paint onto his brush to create the shape of the flower petals.

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

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